This post by Dorie Clark first appeared at Forbes.
What’s your body of work? For many, the term evokes the creations of novelists or painters. But according to consultant and author Pamela Slim, we all have a body of work, and we need to start thinking about it strategically. “Fundamentally, your body of work is everything you create, affect, and impact,” she says. “That can be tangible things like books, or software code, or businesses you build. But it’s also intangible things like the quality of the community you create, or the relationship you have with your kids.” Rather than just letting life happen to us, she says, we need to understand what we want our body of work to look like – and take steps to make it happen. Here are three tips she shares in her new book, Body of Work: Finding the Thread that Ties Your Story Together.
Build Your Reputation Where It Counts. Some may interpret the imperative to “build your body of work” as a requirement to start blogging – and indeed, that’s one good way to do it. But Slim argues for a more expansive definition. “If you can’t stand writing and it makes you miserable, I wouldn’t recommend you invest a lot of energy into that.” Instead, ask yourself where you want to make your impact and who you want to ensure hears your message. “What are the kinds of publications or places – I call them ‘watering holes’ – where the people you care about are going for information?” If you’re a small business owner who wants to get known locally, perhaps a speaking engagement at the Rotary Club is more useful than starting a blog. But even if you’re networking in person, says Slim, try to make sure those efforts are listed or mentioned online, which gives you a “double benefit.”
Identify Your Themes. What if your body of work seems disjointed? Perhaps you were a musician and then became a management consultant, or a sales rep who transitioned into finance. How do you bridge the gap and explain your story? Reinventing your personal brand – a topic I discuss in my book, Reinventing You – can be challenging. Slim suggests literally mapping out common themes that arise. “You can dust off a copy of your resume and jot down your experiences, or put them on index cards or post-it notes,” she says. “Look at the major categories of things you’ve done and ask yourself, ‘What are some common themes that thread between the work experiences?’” If you were a stock trader who became a journalist, she says, perhaps the common strand is “I’m really good with fast action, and making decisions quickly with little information.” Alternately, she says, you can start with the question of what lessons you’ve learned, and what beliefs you hold most dear. “For me,” she says, “one of my core beliefs is that people are really able to make a significant positive change. That came through in the development work I did in Latin America, in working with kids in inner city San Francisco where I taught martial arts, and in helping people who left their corporate jobs.” Don’t despair if your narrative isn’t entirely neat, she says. You don’t have to have “the perfect story that ties all your experiences together…usually there are a number of different situations in which you’d describe what you’re about – a job interview, during community activities – and you can choose to showcase the ingredients that will be relevant for that particular audience.”
Update Your Narrative. Your body of work, and the story you tell about your life, isn’t static. So it’s important to make sure you freshen up your LinkedIn profile or the “about” section of your website at least every 6-12 months, says Slim. “Look at how you’re describing yourself and make an assessment if that still accurately reflects how you want to be known.” And when you’re updating friends and colleagues on your life – at networking events, on Facebook, or during catch-up calls – think consciously about how to “slip in what’s going on with you. You can plant the seed for folks about what you’re doing. Maybe you could say, ‘This year I’m excited to be launching a new craft business on Etsy,’ and that’ll stick in their head and when opportunities arise, they’ll refer things back to you.” It’s not about blasting your message out all the time, she says. “But what are the kinds of opportunities you know you want to receive or be open for? Those are the opportunities where you want to communicate on a strategic basis so people know what’s going on for you.”
How are you planning to build your body of work in 2014?
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.